Monthly Archives: November 2011

Time Dilation

Alternative version of image:Wooden hourglass ...
Whose Time?

2 Peter 3:8But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.

Time dilation is one of the perplexing phenomenon predicted by the theory of Relativity. When a traveler moves relative to a stationary clock, the stationary clock will appear to tick slower. Astronauts  have demonstrated this phenomenon by using extremely accurate clocks while circling the earth and when traveling to the moon.

By affirming that God is light, we also affirm that God is not constrained by our understanding of time.

What are you awaiting God to complete?

December 4th: “Road Work”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Gospel Mark 1:1-8

C. Other texts for Year B for 2nd Sunday in Advent

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

1 This can be the beginning both of the text and of the announcement of the text.

2 This is NOT written in Isaiah, but in Malichi 3:1.

3 Isaiah 40:3 LXX. BHS adds “in the desert.”

4 Acts 19 clarifies the difference between John’s baptism of “repentance for the forgiveness of sins” and Jesus’ baptism of being sealed in the Holy Spirit. Although in modern practice we incorporate John’s baptism of confession of sins and repentance, within Christian Baptism.

5 If John was baptizing in the Jordan, in the “wasteland”, and in proximity to Jerusalem and the Judeans, then John would be approximately at the location of the crossing of the Jordan with the waters held back by God, of Israel under Joshua’s command, and of Elijah and Elisha, and where Naaman washed seven times (2 Ki 5:10).

6 Was camel’s hair rare or common? Or just uncomfortable?

7 Untying the thongs of sandals”; a job for the lowest of the servants considering the lack of modern plumbing and the passage of animals on public streets.

8 How have we been baptized with water and Spirit? How has that made us different?

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

Mark 1:1 Functions as a prologue to the whole book, and thus may be excluded from this pericope.

2&3 Foreshadows the significance of John the Baptist as a messenger sent before the Messiah. NB v2 is a misquote of Malachi 3:1 and v3 comes from Isaiah 40:3. Malachi 3:1 accurately inserted here would make an even stronger Christological statement!

The Revised Common Lectionary parses this into two passages: 1-8 for Advent and 4-11 for the Baptism of our Lord, after Christmas.

12 This begins another story line, although Mark strings it together with “And immediately …”

F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?

  • 5 NIV reverses the order of the baptism and confession of sins. Perhaps reflecting a theology that makes verbal confession of sin a prerequisite of baptism?
  • 10 Most translations smooth out the Markan connection phrase: “And immediately.”

II. Literary Study.

A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?

  • Traditionally Mark is viewed as a scribe of Peter, but various critical methods have questioned the historicity of this making authorship more a matter of faith. The Gospel of Mark may be viewed as either a condensation of Matthew/Luke for evangelists, or the first gospel written and being a source for Matthew and Luke.

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

Matthew 3:1-12 — John demands “fruits of repentance” and warns of separating the wheat for storage from the chaff to be burnt. John would have prevented Jesus’ baptism as unnecessary, but Jesus insists to fulfill righteousness. While the text only mentions Jesus seeing the Spirit of God descending, the voice announces: “This is my Son;” implying that others hear the voice of God.

Matthew 3:1 ff Omits the Malachi passage. Includes different exhortations of the Baptizer than Luke. The Baptizer is not fit to CARRY Jesus’ sandals. Jesus baptizes with Spirit and fire. The Baptizer deters baptizing Jesus insisting on Jesus’ primacy. The temptation follows 40-day fast.

Luke 3:1-20 — Luke gives the exact year of this occurrence. John baptized not only in the Jordan with the people coming to him, but also in the region around the Jordan. John demands “fruits worthy of repentance” and warns that the Messiah comes with a “winnowing fork.” The actual baptism of Jesus is tacked on like an aside.

Luke omits the Malachi passage, but expands the Isaiah passage. Luke also greatly expands the message of John to include exhortations to repent. Luke adds “with fire” after “baptize with the Holy Spirit.” Luke follows the baptism with a long genealogy of Jesus. The temptation of Jesus follows the 40 days of fasting. Rather than being tempted for 40 days.

John 1:6, 15, & 19-34 — John the Baptist sees the HS descend upon Jesus as a sign that Jesus is the Messiah. John’s Gospel is much more interested in signs.

John 1:23ff The Baptizer identifies himself as the voice calling the the desert. The Baptizer identifies Jesus prior to the baptism. The Baptizer reports having seen the Spirit descend upon Jesus. There is no temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. Jesus proceeds to call his disciples.

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

8 Redundant subjects used: egw ebaptisa literally: “I myself baptized” and autos baptisei literally: “he himself will baptize”.

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

  • Mark frequently uses the phrase “and immediately” to connect one vignette to the next and convey the urgency of the gospel.

III. Question the text.

A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.

John is the prophetic voice. What would such a person look like today? He would have to be dressed differently than those around him, yet not so differently dressed as to be shunned. His demands on those around him would have to be different, but within the expectations of the people in order for them to throng to him. Perhaps he would be like a modern-day revivalist, like Billy Graham. However, other than establishing John as a prophet who called for confession of sin and repentance, Mark tells us little about him in order not to distract us from the one coming after him. If one were to preach on John, Mark would have us use John to proclaim Christ and keep Christ as the focus.

Jesus is the recipient of the action. The Baptism happens to him with his only action his coming to John.

The people are only props for the description of John.

No character interaction. Reads like a news report (X happened to Y) rather than as a dramatic history.

B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?

  • In which wasteland was John preaching: the Negeb or the spiritual wasteland that the people may have been experiencing?
  • What difference does it make as to what John ate and wore? P. Perkins (NIB) writes that these further John’s credentials as a prophet likening him to Elijah, “a hairy man with a leather belt around his waist” (2 Ki 1:8) and to Daniel in abstention from meat and wine (Dan 1:8).
  • Dove: Is this also an incarnation of God?

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • CoG: This passage is here to establish the divinity of Jesus. John must first be established as a prophet so that his words announce the coming of the Messiah. Thus the passage denotes the coronation of Jesus as the Christ.
  • Music: “Fairest Lord Jesus”

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • Jesus has no sins to confess, yet he presents himself to John for baptism which is used by other for confession of sin.

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • While the Christmas story is of the Word made Flesh, God made fully human, this story is of Jesus who was fully human made fully divine. And what of the image of God within each person. What would the voice of God the Father have to say to us?
  • Look at “What Presbyterians Believe about Baptism”.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Pheme Perkins, “The Gospel of Mark: Introduction, Commentary and Reflection” The New Interpreter’s Bible, (Abingdon, 1995) suggests (p. 529) that Mark choose to dispense with a recounting of a birth narrative of Jesus to avoid the danger of disciples wondering about and focusing on the years of his life prior to the start of his ministry. Such information would have no bearing on God’s plan for salvation. Later, (p. 531) she notes that the call to “prepare the way of the Lord” may also be a warning for the God’s coming in judgment for Christians, thus verses 1-3 may all be considered as introduction to the entire gospel.

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

Jesus is divine at least by the time he is baptized by John.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

Advent is when we prepare our hearts and minds and souls and bodies for the coming of Christ into our lives.

Growing and Glowing

A US Marine Doing Pull-ups.
Calisthenics

1 Peter 2:2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation …

The stronger my relationship with God, the more I want to strengthen it for as it becomes stronger, I sense its weaknesses.

This blog has become for me a strengthening exercise; calisthenics for my spirit. A few hours every month listening for God, attending to what God is doing in my life, and sharing it with whomever might read these entries.

How are you strengthening your spirit to grow into being God’s people, appreciating mercy?

November 27th: “Watch! He Is Coming!”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Mark 13:24-37

C. Other texts for Year B for 1st Sunday in Advent

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

24a Of what distress does Jesus speak? but that only begs the question of knowing the hour.

24b-25 Why the extinguishing of all of the natural lights? Is it so that the only light before us will be Christ, the Light of God, so that we will be fixed upon this light alone?

26-27 This compares with Rev 7.

28 Does the fig tree come to leaf sooner than other trees? Is it like a forsythia bush, which is among the first to blossom in the spring? Or does this refer to the fig tree that Jesus curses which withers and dies.

30 Obviously this does not mean that those who physically heard the words of Christ would not die until he comes again, but does it mean that the age of humanity would not pass away as has passed away the age of dinosaurs? Does this mean that as we each die that Christ comes again?

31 The word that was in the beginning and ever shall be.

32 While “that distress” and the darkening of the sun and the stars and the coming of the Son of Man will mark the gathering of the elect, like the fig tree marks summer, ignore the false prophets who foretell the end of the world.

33-36 Perhaps these signs are like the footsteps of the owner coming up the path. When you see these signs it is already too late. If you are going to live as if Christ mattered, do it today!

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • This apocalypse begins with 13:1. It goes through three preceding stages: rumors of war, persecution of believers, and widespread panic and slaughter.
  • Followed by priests plotting to kill Jesus and woman anointing him with a jar of nard.

II. Literary Study.

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

  • Luke 21:29-33 – Expands parable of the fig tree to include “all of the trees.”
  • Matt 24:32–36 – Very similar to Mark, but omits parable of man leaving servants in charge.

III. Question the text.

B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?

Fig tree: Leaves used by Adam and even for modesty. Possibly symbolic of prosperity (see 1 Kings 4:25). In Greek mythology (probably known by audience) a crow is tempted by ripening figs and is delayed in completing an errand and punished by Apollo.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • CoG: Do not wait until you see signs of the apocalypse to begin preparations. For even when things look best, the time is near.
  • Music: “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus”

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • A woman, new to the faith, asked about the second coming. She wanted to know what to do with all of the predictions of signs of the Second Coming in the Bible. How would she recognize them as real and not a trick by some false prophet? And if she could deduce for herself as to what year it would be? I quoted to her: No one knows the day nor the hour. But as for me, I would live each day as if tomorrow was the day when Christ would come again, for if in leaving her shop I chanced to pull out in front of a large truck, then for me today would have been my last day to do anything about it. [BTW, I was always VERY careful pulling out of her shop across the two lanes of traffic and a turning lane.]
  • A preacher reported that as a teenager her mom would leave her in the house to clear the table and wash the dishes while the mother went out for a regular evening meeting. The teenager would delay in doing the tasks so that she would just finish the task as her mother entered the house, so it would look as if she had spent the whole three hours cleaning up, yet knowing full well that her mother was not deceived.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Pheme Perkins, The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Gospel of Mark” (Abingdon Press, 1995). “Today’s readers have a difficulty with prophetic oracles, because they think of them solely in terms of predicting the future. [Similar to predictions from experts and pundits.] Old testament prophecy, however, provides a different framework for statements about the future. They are diagnoses of the moral or spiritual health of the people. … Destruction occurs only because the words of warning go unheeded. Thus prophetic speech is a form of instruction, not fortune telling.”

In her reflections, she hypothesizes two stories of last words to a loved one who dies unexpectedly to illustrate the need for watchfulness even two millennia after these words were first spoken. She concludes: “Being a faithful Christian does not just ‘happen’ like crabgrass or dandelions popping up in the lawn. It requires the care, attention, and cultivation of an expert gardener.”

Lamar Williamson, Jr., Interpretation: Mark, (John Knox Press, 1983) notes that signs which people associate with the end of the world have occurred countless times. Offering pragmatic guidance for the present he cites a New England legislature panicked by an eclipse. Opposing adjournment one commissioner said: “Mr. Speaker, if it is not the end of the world and we adjourn, we shall appear to be fools. If it is the end of the world, I should choose to be found doing my duty. I move you, sir, that candles be brought.” The command to “Watch” stresses the dimension of present responsibility.

Ralph Martin, Knox Preaching Guides: Mark (John Knox Press, 1981) cites verse 13 as key to understanding this chapter: “… but the one who endures to the end, will be saved.”

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

  • Do not be tempted to wait for signs, be ready at all times.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

  • Encourage endurance in the face of troubling times.

Free Pews

Box pews, Holy Trinity, York
Pew Boxes

Matthew 17:24… the collectors of the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the temple tax?”

The benefits of having a faith community are many, but how will we support the organization and facility?

A “temple tax” or “pew rent” is one solution. The temple tax probably allocated basic operating costs among the members, with each person paying the same share. The alternative is to rely on generous gifts, with each person giving in proportion what they receive. A “temple tax” is fair and equitable: Each person is eligible for the same benefits, and thus must shoulder a similar burden.

Yet Jesus commends the idea of free pews. God expects congregations to faithfully demonstrate that God will provide what is needed.

How do you discern how to support the work of Christ in the world?

November 13th: “Preparations”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Matthew 25:1-13

C. Other texts for Year A for Sunday November 6th

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

1-2 When the end times come, the reign of God will not be an orderly procession but confusion.

3 The “foolish” took no extra oil, perhaps supposing the bridegroom would come quickly.

4 The “wise” took extra oil, perhaps recalling previous instances of delay.

5 They all slept during the delay.

6 Midnight: Time Critical.

7 Everyone gets ready, and puts forward their best light.

8 Should we expect others to share?

9 Are the wise being wise or merely sending the foolish away at the critical moment.

10 It’s midnight. Where would they find a dealer at that hour? This was not a quick trip to the market!

11-12 Some people are motivated by fear of being excluded.

13 Expect the boss to show any time!

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • This is a complete parable. It is the third of five parables that explain people’s reactions to the Son of Man coming at his appointed hour, a teaching that includes all of chapters 24 and 25.

F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?

  • Some manuscripts expand verse 1 to read “to meet the bridegroom [and the bride].” Although it answers questions about the ceremony, this adds complicates to the allegory, as the bride is otherwise unmentioned.
  • Some manuscripts expand verse 13 to “for you know neither the day nor the hour [in which the Son of Man is coming].” Adding this would match similar verse in adjacent parables.

II. Literary Study.

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

  • This parable is the antithesis to the parable of the generous landowner who pays everyone the same, beginning with the last who wait until the last hour to get hired.

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

  • This is a parable in an apocalyptic section, thus the words chosen are likely to be highly symbolic!

III. Question the text.

A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.

The foolish maiden would have enough oil in their lamps for a reasonable party if the bridegroom had been on time.

The wise maidens anticipated the bridegroom arriving late, and even after the call at “midnight” they were unsure of his arrival.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of Gravity: This parable follows a teaching predicated on Jesus’ prophecy that not one stone of the Temple would be left standing. It answers the question: “When will Jesus come again?” A question of importance when this was written ~30 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
  • Emotional Center: Those who expect delay will be ready and will be received. Those who wait until the last moment will be excluded.
  • Music: Wagner’s Bridal March would be an interesting background music for this parable!

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • Both the foolish and wise maidens bring lamps with some oil. But how much oil is prudent to bring? Since the wise maidens would not give / share / lend / sell any oil to the foolish, there is no upper limit on how much is enough.

E. Is there anything you wish the author had included in the passage? Why do you think this was not a part of Scripture?

  • There is no grace for those who are unprepared.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

J. Newton Davies (“Matthew”, The Abingdon Bible Commentary, Frederick C. Eiselen, Editor (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press) 1929.) “The all important lesson is inculcated that the Christian must learn to build up reserves of strength and fortitude, so that in all circumstances, favorable and unfavorable, he may cause his light to shine, and thus find the joy of the Lord.”

Reginald H. Fuller (“Matthew”, Harper’s Bible Commentary, James Luther Mays, Editor (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc.) 1988.) interprets this as a simple allegory with the Messiah as the Bridegroom and the wise bridesmaids as those who practice better righteousness, fulfilling the Torah, than those who use up their oil.

Benedict Viviano (“The Gospel According to Matthew,” The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Raymond Brown, et al, eds. (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall) 1990.) explains the oil as allegorizing good works which are not completely transferable, explaining the refusal of the wise to give some of their oil to the foolish. “Others can help, but readiness to accept salvation is ultimately a matter of personal responsibility. … The shut door means that admission is not automatic.”

M. Eugene Boring (“The Gospel of Matthew,” The New Interpreter’s Bible , Leander Keck, et al, eds. (Nashville: Abingdon) 1995.) reflects that we can not tell by looking at the bridesmaids that some are foolish and others are wise, for all have their lamps aglow with expectation [and they can not be differentiated by their watchfulness as all fall asleep]. He links their preparedness back to the Sermon on the Mount: being a peacemaker or merciful for a day can be nice, but doing so for a lifetime requires preparedness.

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

Believers must be ready to persevere as Christ will come in his time, not ours.

B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.

Make ready to demonstrate a changed life for many days as the last day has yet to dawn.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

Enough to Feed

Bread
Bread to Share

Matthew 15:33The disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in the desert to feed so great a crowd?”

How does God work in the world?

We pray for healing in friends and neighbors. We pray for guidance for our leaders. We pray for strength to guide through the day. But how will God answer our prayers?

Of course we should hope and expect God to give a miraculous response: Healing when modern medicine would fail us. Guidance when we are lost. Strength when tired to exhaustion. Yet I have more often received answers to prayer in help from a stranger, sage advice from a friend, a scientific advancement that had been decades in the making and arrived when needed.

When have you received bread in the desert?

Priorities

Magnolia Flower
A painting my mother had made from a photograph my father had taken

Haggai 1:4Is it a time for you yourselves to live in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?

If I were to visit your home, what would be the focal point? What does your decor say you value? What do your bank accounts and credit card statements say about what you value?

Pictures made by friends and relatives or pictures that show family cover the walls of my house. Each has a story. I hope you might interpret these as highlighting the relationships I value.

What is important in your life?